Monday, August 13, 2018

The JEWEL OF THE NILE timeline (and while I'm still haunted by it)

Got this in the comments section last Tuesday and thought, why not take a post to set the timeline on JEWEL OF THE NILE. It’s a re-post, but warning -- it takes a horribly tragic turn and is difficult to write.  You'll see why.

Unknown wrote:

Another recollection of 'Jewel of the Nile' from Kathleen Turner in today's NYMagazine:

Were you surprised or hurt at the way Michael leaned on you to do that movie?

That was a bad blowup. I had signed a contract to do a sequel [to Romancing the Stone] but the script for it [The Jewel of the Nile] was terrible. What had happened was that Romancing was so successful that Diane [Thomas], who wrote the original script, evidently asked Michael for what he felt was a ridiculous sum to work on the sequel. So instead, he went with these two guys and what they came up with was terrible, formulaic, sentimental. Anyway, I said no. Then I found out I was being sued for $25 million [for breach out contract]. My position was that, yes, I signed up for a sequel but I didn’t sign up to compromise the quality of my work. Eventually Michael and I talked.

How’d that go?

He said, “What would it take for you to do this film?” I wanted Diane back, or at least to give input. And Michael did go to her for some alterations. But ultimately I read the script on a plane to Morocco, where the film was shooting, and I was furious. It didn’t have what Michael said it’d have. When I got to the hotel in Fez, Michael and I sat down on the floor with three versions of the script. We were trading pages to get a script that was acceptable to both of us. It was, “I’ll do this if you’ll do that.” It was frustrating. But I do have to say, when I got sick Danny and Michael called and said, “If you need anything kid…” So they’re true friends.

[Don't know if the '2 guys' were you and Isaacs or Rosenthal & Konner, but interesting anyway.]

Diane Thomas wrote ROMANCING THE STONE and did a spectacular job. Practically everything you saw up on the screen – the humor, suspense, warmth, vivid imagination, that was all Diane.

She of course was approached to write the sequel but was tied up writing a movie for Steven Spielberg. So Michael hired the team of Mark Rosenthal & Lawrence Konner to do the screenplay of JEWEL OF THE NILE.

That was the draft Kathleen Turner had trouble with, as did Michael Douglas.

At this point David and I were brought on to do a rewrite. We did a rather extensive one, primarily trying to make sense of the story.

We also had a time crunch. In order to start filming in Morocco, their government had to approve the script. And the script needed to be translated into French, which would take a few more days. Additionally, there was the threat of a Writers Guild strike so we were pushed pretty hard to finish the rewrite quickly.

The hardest part of the script was the first act. In ROMANCING THE STONE, Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) learns right away that her sister has been kidnapped and she has to go rescue her. The story is off and running.

Remember the end of ROMANCING THE STONE? Jack (Michael Douglas) buys a boat and as a grand gesture presents it to her in Manhattan and the take-away is that they’re going to sail around the world together and live happily ever after.

So now we pick them up in the sequel. They’re tan, they’re sipping champagne, they’re livin’ the life. No more adventures for these two. They’ve got it made.

Except we need an adventure. And a reason for them to abandon the good life and once again throw themselves in harm’s way. Not an easy task.

We could say that they’re just bored, but that’s a tough sell to an audience that would give anything to trade places with them.

Anyway, we did the best we could in the time frame allotted and turned it in. Michael loved our rewrite but still had trouble with act one. Don’t blame him. So did we.

He called me at home from Paris on a Friday night to say he did something not entirely kosher (but producers do what they have to do to get movies made). He had called Diane Thomas and asked if she’d work with us on the first act. Were we okay with that? We were thrilled. These were Diane’s characters. Who knew them better than she did?

She was only available that weekend, which meant working Saturday and Sunday. We didn’t care.

Diane was an absolute delight. So smart, so inventive, so kind. We meshed instantly. It was a wonderful weekend and I was proud of the results. So was Michael and off the script went to be translated.

The Moroccan government approved it and plans were made to start filming in the late spring.

We moved on and accepted an offer to create a new sitcom for Mary Tyler Moore.

Michael called and asked if we could be on the set during production. Normally we would have said “sure.” Morocco wasn’t a picnic, but there was also the South of France. Plus, what a cool experience. But we were locked in to the MTM project and had to pass.

So Michael did what I thought was a strange thing. He hired the original writers, Rosenthal & Konner to be there for production. So what did they do? They tossed out most of our script and put their original material back in. I defy anyone to explain the plot of JEWEL OF THE NILE.

Okay, here comes the truly horrible part. For helping Michael out that weekend he bought Diane a Porsche. A few months later, with her boyfriend driving that Porsche at 80 mph on rain-slicked Pacific Coast Highway, the car lost control and crashed. Diane Thomas and another friend were killed. Diane was 39.

That was 33 years ago and I will be forever haunted by it. I can’t drive PCH without thinking about her, I can’t see a Porsche without thinking about her, I can’t see a Michael Douglas or Kathleen Turner movie without thinking about her. I certainly can’t watch ROMANCING THE STONE or JEWEL OF THE NILE without thinking about her. And maybe now, if you do any of those things you’ll think about her too.

As a proud alum of UCLA I’m happy to say that the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program created the Diane Thomas Screenwriting Award in her honor.

You can understand now why I can't tell that story without tears in my eyes.  And why I'm going to end it here. 


Janet Ybarra said...

What a tragic story... just an example that sometimes events transcend the usual pettiness of Hollywood politics.

Thanks for being willing to telling that story, Ken.

Glenn said...

Tragic end to an obviously talented woman. And I have to agree, Ken, the plot of Jewel of the Nile has always been tough to decipher.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Konner and Rosenthal were also involved in a rather contentuous situation involving story credits on STAR TREK VI (1991). Can't remember the details, but supposedly some Paramount exec brought them aboard the production, asking Leonard Nimoy (co-star and producer of the film) to meet with them. Ultimately, they contributed little to nothing to an already established storyline at that point, but someone in Hollywood fought for their credit after the film was shot, creating further tension and stress for both Nimoy and writer/director Nick Meyer.

I believe both I Am Spock and Shatner's own Star Trek Movie Memories detail the whole incident.

Peter said...

I always hoped there would be a third Romancing movie to get rid of the bad taste left by Jewel but Douglas and Turner are too old for it now.

I know Fox was planning a remake a few years ago but thankfully that fell through. I dread to think what a remake would be like. Zac Efron would probably be the lead, all the comedy would be derived from pop culture references, and all the action would be computer generated. A computer generated mud slide in a computer generated forest. And instead of being a romance novelist, Joan Wilder would be a writer of online fan fiction, thereby allowing endless 'hilarious' references to Fifty Shades of Gray and Twilight.

Rick said...

"As a proud alum of UCLA I’m happy to say that the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program created the Diane Thomas Screenwriting Award in her honor. "

As per wiki :

The UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition replaced the Diane Thomas Screenwriting Award in 2006.

I am saddened by her death.

I hope you wont be offended by this question.

She wrote a great script but, shouldn't the honor of naming any program or award be after someone who has done a greater body of work.

Again, not belittling her, but just wanted to know if program was named just because she died young?

Shane said...

Reading Eduardo Jencarelli's comments; these 2 writers seem like 2 bad apples or rather 2 shady characters with lots of powerful connections.

Buttermilk Sky said...

It's a very sad story but it's not your fault, or Michael Douglas's, or anybody's except the fool driving the car.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

If I remember correctly, what happened on STAR TREK VI is, Leonard Nimoy came up with the story and Paramount foisted Konner and Rosenthal onto the production as screenwriters. Nimoy suspected the studio owed Konner and Rosenthal a favour and that was how they got the STAR TREK VI gig, against Nimoy's wishes. What the pair came up with was unusable, and so director Nicholas Meyer wrote the shooting script in collaboration with his friend, Denny Martin Flynn. Although nothing from the Konner/Rosenthal draft ended up in the finished film, arbitration mandated the credit "Screenplay by Nicholas Meyer & Denny Martin Flynn, story by Leonard Nimoy and Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal."

The postscript to this is that either Konner or Rosenthal - I don't remember which one - publicly criticised STAR TREK VI, specifically, the ending in which the signatures of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, et al appear onscreen (as STAR TREK VI was the "signing off" of the original cast). Konner or Rosenthal said the script called for the signatures of the *characters* (Kirk, Spock, etc) as nobody gives a shit about the actors. A claim that indicates Konner & Rosenthal didn't know anything about STAR TREK fans and should never have been let near STAR TREK VI in the first place.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

Correct. I mean, why else would a studio employ this line of reasoning:

"Hey, we can't get Diane Thomas for the ROMANCING THE STONE sequel. Let's ask the guys who wrote SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE!"

By Ken Levine said...

Can I just add one thing? Nicholas Meyer directed a movie David Isaacs and I wrote called VOLUNTEERS. I've never met a film director who had more respect for writers.

Say what you will about the film, Nick shot our script almost word for word.

In other words, he's not one of those directors who routinely throws out scripts and needs to put his own stamp on them. If he thought Konner & Rosenthal's script was unusable then I assume that it was.

Jennifer said...

Even though it's not good, I've probably seen Jewel of the Nile twenty or thirty times, mostly because my cousin was one of the jugglers in it. So it has its small joys. But as voracious reader of romance novels, I loved Romancing the Stone for taking the genre seriously. It's one of those movies I always watch when it's on.

It's a shame we didn't get to Ken & David's version with Diane's contributions.

Janet Ybarra said...

To me, your endorsement of Meyer is pretty meaningful. He directed STAR TREK II: WRATH OF KHAN, and did a great job with that film, IMO.

DBenson said...

Free idea: Do a sort of flip of "Burn, Hollywood, Burn". Some Hollywood hanger-on manages to get his name on every big hit despite zero talent or involvement. Perhaps a "Citizen Kane" framing story where somebody starts researching the career of a fabled "showman" and gradually discovers his achievements were all fictional. Possible tactics:
-- Litigates like crazy. Maybe he finds that somebody once copyrighted "Boy Meets Girl / Boy Loses Girl / Boy Gets Girl"; manages to buy it; and successfully shakes down every studio for every movie built on that frame.

-- It's believed, perhaps incorrectly, that he's connected to a superstar, the mob, or a senator pushing to regulate Hollywood. The whole industry kisses up, and lets him put his name on things and publicize himself as a major creative. Sort of a producer who never actually does any producing.
-- He manages to slip in a double-talk contract clause that guarantees prominent screen credit, even though he's a minor accountant fired the next day. The illusion of importance leads to more contracts, all with that same clause.
-- He hangs with the right people who just assume he's part of the industry in general and their picture in particular
-- He teaches ripoff seminars on how to break into the industry, and one pupil hits the jackpot by pure outrageous luck. Said pupil brings him along as mentor, believing his teachings are valuable.

The easy ending would be him getting genuine creative ambition, and finally pouring heart and soul into a project ... which destroys his reputation completely, perhaps because for the first time everybody thinks he stole it all.

Just cut me in as Executive Producer and get me into some A-list parties.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Jennifer: you are cousin to one of the Karamazov Brothers? That's very cool. I actually saw them live in Oregon (IIRC) some years before the movie came out.


Howard Carter said...

Ken, glad to hear your respect for Meyers. As a huge fan of Wrath of Khan, I respect his directing, and think his writing (Seven-Per-Cent Solution) shows he's a writer at heart.

VincentS said...

Such a sad story. She sounded like a great writer and a great person. Tragic loss.

Barry said...

Does your version of the Jewel of the Nile exist anywhere or would release violate some copyright laws? If so, could it be rewritten with other leads?

Jeff Boice said...

It sounds like Michael Douglas had no control over "Nile", the power residing with studio executives whose only concern was getting a sequel out ASAP. That would explain how Rosenthal & Konner (with only one movie writing credit at the time) could substitute their own script for the approved script- I mean writers normally don't have that power, do they? Especially considering the script required approval from the Moroccan Government. Had to be that- I can't believe Douglas would intentionally pull a "bait and switch" on Kathleen Turner. Stories like this leave me amazed that studios manage to produce anything of quality.

VP81955 said...

Something like this happened 90 years ago when Paramount released its first all-talkie, "Interference" (the film that changed William Powell's career; in the silent era, he usually played villains and rogues, but his mellifluous voice enabled him to portray protagonists from then on, including Philo Vance and Nick Charles). The director of the sound version was a technician named Roy Pomeroy, a technical director for the studio and among the founders of AMPAS. He had learned about sound from Western Electric officials, was handed the "Interference" assignment, and let it go to his head. While he persuaded Paramount to boost his weekly salary from $250 to $2,500 when the film became a hit, the studio declined his request to raise it to $3,500 and he would direct just two more films.

Jennifer said...

Wendy, yes I'm related to the late great Sam Williams. Got to see him perform live with the Flying Karamazov Brothers in the late 80s & their version of A Comedy of Errors made me fall in love with Shakespeare. For all of Jewel of the Nile's faults the family reunion that summer had fun talking about our cousin up on the big screen!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Jennifer: I can well imagine. They were great live.


Johnny Walker said...

This is a very sad story. I would love to read the script you hoped would make it into production.

@DBenson I love your idea :)

Ken, some people on Twitter have been sharing their "greatest rejection", Felicia Day's is pretty impressive: '#ShareYourRejections I was cast in a role in a sitcom pilot. On Sunday I got a script, I had been written out of the show?! But no one called me to tell me! Drove to work Mon, asked "Am I still in this?" Phone call, AD comes back, "No. You need to leave." I cried in the car.'

'I quit acting for a year after that and started concentrating on web stuff. So it turned out FINE!' (Her break came from writing and starring in her own web series.)

'No producer or anyone called me even! It was incredible. But whatever, the pilot failed, no pickup. Good riddance lol.'

Do you have a similar rejection to share?